Friday, April 03, 2015

WhatsApp voice call feature bans regular mobile network calls

With the recent introduction of WhatsApp voice call feature for their Android users (without requiring an invite from one of your friends who have the feature), the WhatsApp client has outright banned the use of regular mobile network to make calls through the app's interface. The WhatsApp developer team (now under Facebook) has decided to make it simply impossible to do what you used to be able to do in their Android client.

Many users have found it very handy to place regular calls to their WhatsApp friends through the app's interface, but with this change, they are forced to take the longer route of going to their home screen, opening the phonebook/contacts list, finding the contact and making a regular call. Or perhaps the slightly better (provided you know about it) but still longer route of opening the "Contact info" screen in WhatsApp, choosing "View in address book" in the menu and making a regular call.

Before the free calls were introduced, WhatsApp allowed making a regular phone call by simply selecting "Call" in the WhatsApp conversation menu. But with the free calls introduced, that option is no longer available, even when it makes sense to make it available.

There are many instances where making regulars calls would be handy.
  • The contact doesn't have an up-to-date WhatsApp client or is using an iPhone.
    • In this case WhatsApp simply complains the contact needs to update the app to receive WhatsApp calls but the message has no option to make a regular call instead!
  • The contact no longer has an active data connection or one of the data connections required is currently switched off.
    • In this case WhatsApp simply calls the contact anyway and then just ends the calls.
    • If your friend doesn't have a data connection, there's no notification whatsoever about the lack of data connection, let alone an option to make a regular call. This can be confusing to you as it appears that your friend's phone is ringing and your friend is ignoring you, when in reality your friend's phone is unreachable (regular network call distinguishes the two but in WhatsApp call they behave the same way).
    • If you don't have a data connection, there's a notification about the lack of data connection (after the app stupidly attempts making a call that requires data), but the message has no option to make a regular call instead.
  • The contact is not using WhatsApp temporarily or permanently.
    • This is a less likely scenario but can happen when the contact switched to a spare phone with no WhatsApp.
I have made a call using the WhatsApp voice call feature, and the quality is not as good as, say Google Hangouts, and definitely not near the regular call quality. I think this all-out ban on regular call in the app is unjustified when the feature requires data and latest client, and especially when the quality is bad. The ability to make a regular call should have been an alternative option.

The feature was released without much thought and is not as polished as it should be. Instead of working in conjunction and cooperation with the regular mobile calls, it attempts to replace regular calls completely and does so in a terrible way.

This ban is coming soon for Apple iPhone users who are still "stuck" with regular calls placed over mobile networks in their current WhatsApp clients for iOS.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How to clean up your Blogger Reading list

How to clean up your Blogger Reading list and stop following old blogs you no longer want to follow:

If you tried to stop following blogs using the gear icon next to the Reading list in your Blogger home page, you will now get this error: We are unable to load your FriendConnect data at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again shortly.

There is no need to try again shortly, because FriendConnect was partially shut down in 2011 and this broke its integration with the Reading List feature of Blogger. Fortunately, there is another way to clean up your reading list and remove those antique blogs you no longer care about:
  • Go to Google Friend Connect http://www.google.com/friendconnect/user/overview
  • Click on one of the Settings links next to the blogs.
  • A pop-up will appear. If it asks to sign-in, sign in with your Google account.
  • If you had to sign in, the pop-up will close. Click on the Settings link again to re-open the pop-up.
  • On the left side, click on "Sites I've joined". This will show the list of sites on left, with "stop following" links.
  • Click on the "stop following" links one by one for each blog you want to stop following, BUT be sure to click this link for the pop-up's blog (matching the big title at the top of the pop-up) as the LAST one, because the pop-up will close as soon as you stop following the same blog the pop-up is for.
    • For each time you click "stop following" link, a pop-up will appear asking if you are sure. Click the "Stop following" button in the pop-up.
  • Refresh the Google friend connect page and see that the list is to your taste. If there are more blogs to unfollow, repeat the above process as required.
Thanks to this blog for pointing me in the right direction.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Setting up a local Oracle XE database and importing DMP file

The experience of setting up a local Oracle Express Edition database is not a straight-forward as it should be. The following is supposed to outline what could go wrong and how to go about it the right way. It also includes importing a DMP file (a dump) from another system.
  • First of all, download the installer from Oracle website. You will need to sign-in to download - the account creation is free. Be sure to choose the correct bit as per your computer (x64 or x86).
  • Extract the download and install XE by running DISK1\setup.exe (and feel nostalgic of the floppy disk era).
  • During installation, you will need to choose a new password. There will also be some details displayed after you enter the new password, such as folders and ports.
    • Be sure to save both password and details in a text file for future reference.
      • I saved it as C:\oraclexe\details.txt.
      • Save password only if it's generic and you are likely to forget.
    • The installation will take a while, but usually, no restart is necessary.
  • Once installation is complete, you may want to import your dump.
    • You need to move the import file to a specific location with a specific filename if you are going to use the impdp command.
    • It is C:\oraclexe\app\oracle\admin\XE\dpdump\expdat.dmp for the default installation. Make sure the file name is expdat.dmp.
    • At this point you may want to open SQL Plus or Toad and create necessary tablespaces and users/roles. See below.
  • Open a new command prompt window.
  • Enter the impdp command in the command prompt.
    • There are two commands, imp and impdp (not impdb! the DP stands for Data Pump). You will need to use the command matching the one that was used to export the database: exp or expdp.
    • I was trying to import using imp command at first, and it just threw some random error about charset and what not. Don't waste time troubleshooting this error. Just use impdp instead.
    • You can add the TABLE_EXISTS_ACTION=REPLACE parameter to force replace all tables that already exist (perhaps from previous import attempts). There is also TABLE_EXISTS_ACTION=TRUNCATE if that suits better.
    • Alternatively you can drop all objects under a user using DROP USER username CASCADE; to do a clean import.
  • The utility asks for the username here. Enter SYS AS SYSDBA as the username, which includes the role.
    • If you try to login as SYS only, you will get an error ORA-28009: connection as SYS should be as SYSDBA or SYSOPER. This is why you include AS SYSDBA in the username.
  • Enter the password. There won't be any characters shown on screen. Just key in and press Enter.
  • The import should run now. There are few things to note though:
    • Oracle XE doesn't have partitioning. It is very limited - see comparison. For partitioning, you need Oracle Enterprise Edition (EE).
    • You will need to create tablespaces in advance before starting the import. To do this, use SQL Plus which you can access as stated below, or you can use Toad for Oracle (which provides a nice GUI). Be sure to use auto-extend.
    • You will also need to create other users or roles required before starting the import.
    • If you are not sure of the tablespaces and users/roles to create, just run the import and look at the errors thrown. Create the required entities then run the import again.
    • The log of import is also written out to C:\oraclexe\app\oracle\admin\XE\dpdump\import.log in addition to being displayed in the command window. This file is overwritten for each import, so be sure to back up if you need it later.
  • If you want to connect from Toad, you can use the command lsnrctl status (on Windows command prompt) to check Service Names accepted. They will be listed as Service "NAME" and status READY. I used XEXDB.
In the Start Menu (All Programs), a new folder "Oracle Database 11g Express Edition" is added.
  • Get Started - This is supposed to launch the browser console, but may show an error because of the environment variable not being set. If it does, manually navigate to this URL, which takes you to the same console:
  • Run SQL Command Line - This launches the SQL Plus utility that you can use to administer the database.
    • You need to connect to the database using CONNECT SYS AS SYSDBA or any other user.
    • Tablespaces can be created using CREATE TABLESPACE command.
    • You can also use Toad for Oracle or any other program to connect to the database and administer it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

WhatsApp Web is on Firefox... still nothing for iOS

WhatsApp Web has expanded to Mozilla Firefox, and possibly other browsers too. iPhone and iPad users are still out of luck, as Apple's technical restrictions made it difficult for the Web client to work with iOS version of WhatsApp.

When WhatsApp Web was launched, it was only available for Google Chrome. WhatsApp Web took advantage of Chrome's push notification system, citing it as ideal for the product (ref). However, it is now available on Firefox as well, a browser that still remains popular among many, despite all the recent flak it received.

Many Chrome users had switched back to their old favorite Firefox after Chrome unveiled a new "security update" that essentially destroyed their ability to have custom add-ons - Chrome was now locked to work only with add-ons approved on the Chrome Web Store. A lot of such users will be happy to finally get rid of Chrome altogether, if they had still been running Chrome to use WhatsApp Web.

That being said, I found that WhatsApp Web is quite sluggish on Firefox for Windows, and the animations are very choppy. The scrollbars are the same ugly ones we see everywhere on Windows, and they look out of place. In Chrome, WhatsApp Web runs smoothly, all the animations are slick, and the scrollbars are nice, simple and matching.

Moreover, Chrome has a nice feature called "application shortcuts" which lets me run WhatsApp Web as though it's a desktop app I installed on my computer. Firefox doesn't have a similar feature, and it seems add-ons that were supposed to add the feature are outdated not in active development anymore. (Unfortunately, Chrome for Mac OS X does not have "application shortcuts" native, but fortunately it can be achieved with third-party add-ons.)

So for now, while my main browser is to remain Firefox (I too deserted Chrome after their security lockdown), I will continue to use Chrome for WhatsApp Web. What about you?

PS: There are some negative comments about WhatsApp, telling that it's better to switch to competitor X or Y. The problem with this suggestion is that, while easy to say, it's hard to do. When all of your friends are on WhatsApp, you will find that you cannot switch to another chat client expect everyone to follow. I find that even though I have accounts on many chat clients -- like Telegram, WeChat, Hangouts and even Facebook Messenger -- ultimately I only use WhatsApp on a daily basis (to be honest, I like Telegram better).

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